Thursday, November 12, 2009

Roast chicken, and resulting chicken broth

I consider a whole roasted chicken one of the easiest things to cook, with the most bang for my buck. It's versatile; it's cheap; the carcass yields plenty of homemade broth; and it invariably impresses guests. Usually I get something like, "You cooked a whole chicken, just for me?" I try to refrain from telling them just how easy it really is.

Between shopping at Sam's and working the sales, I can usually get a whole chicken for $2 or $3. Compare that with the usual price of boneless skinless chicken breasts here: $6.99/lb. Keep in mind these are chicken breasts that have been pumped full of water, and harvested off Frankenstein genetically-modified factory farm chickens, to make them seem bigger and more impressive than they actually are. Whole chickens at least are not pumped full of water, and I think they're easier to cook than chicken breasts. Really. When was the last time you cooked a chicken breast that didn't taste at least a little dry? (It's because all that water they pump in evaporates during cooking.)

So, here's my standard recipe. First, put the chicken breast-side-up in a roasting pan. Stuff the inside of the (thawed) chicken with half an onion and half a citrus fruit (lemon, lime, orange). Save the other half of the onion for something else, and squeeze the other half of the lemon/lime/whatever over the top of the chicken. Next, add some liquid, maybe 3/4 cup or so, to the pan. The liquid can be white wine, red wine, any kind of juice, red/white wine/cider vinegar, vodka, rum, beer, whatever. The possibilities are endless. Essentially it's whatever you have on hand. Then add some seasonings to the top of the chicken. Again, it's whatever you have on hand. It can be some combination of green herbs--parsley, basil, oregano--or spicy herbs--paprika, chili powder, cayenne pepper--or a prepared mix, like steak or Thai seasoning. Whatever. Don't scrimp.

Throw the chicken into a preheated 375-degree oven. In an hour, flip the whole bird over in the pan, so the breast is now soaking in the liquid. In another hour, flip the bird back over. Wait 15 min or so, long enough for the breast to re-crunchify, and take it out. Let it sit for another 15 min or so before carving. Eat.

That's it--maybe 3 minutes of prep work, and 1 minute's worth of doing something to the bird while it cooks. Total cost: $3, or however much you paid for the chicken, since the other ingredients can be cobbled together from what you already have. After you cook it, you can serve it whole; or pull the meat off and use it in any number of other things (chicken salad, soup, gumbo, etc.).

Be sure to save all the bones, and the liquid inside the roasting pan, for chicken broth. To make the broth, just throw the carcass (and the onion from inside the chicken) into a large stew pot. Add bay leaves and salt. At this point you can cook on low for several hours until the broth is a pleasant medium-brown color. You can also add vegetable leavings (peels, onion ends, celery leaves, pepper insides) for a more full-flavored broth. I keep a Ziploc bag in the freezer for the vegetable leavings--you can throw everything into the broth frozen, and you don't have to worry about your trash can smelling like onions. When the broth is appropriately brothy, strain out the chicken bones and pour the broth into something. I save old jars, but you can also use Tupperware or Ziploc bags. The added bonus of Tupperware/Ziploc is that you can freeze the broth until you need it, freeing up room in your fridge. The broth tastes so much better than ready-made versions, and it doesn't have all the sodium/preservatives.

The same broth can be made with any bones--lamb, beef, pork, etc. Sometimes your friendly neighborhood butcher will give you "soup bones" for free; sometimes he'll charge you, albeit a low price.

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